Early Spring Chinook Lower Columbia River

Posted by Shane Magnuson on Mar 22nd 2021

Early Spring Chinook Lower Columbia River

Its been a bit since my last blog but we are finally out on the water again and chasing some early Spring Chinook now. This past week we have focused on Springers in the lower Columbia outside of Cathlamet Washington. This has always been a great time for me to fish with some friends, get my feet wet for the year and just maybe put an early Springer in my own freezer!

This starts off with last weekend March 11th through 14th. I knew the fishing was going to be tough because of how early it was. but there was a group of us ready to give it a try and the weather was perfect. I put the boat in the marina, rigged the rods and we were ready. On the 14th i pulled the boat out of the marina and headed home. Although we had a blast and spent time with great friends and would do it again because that's what fishing is about!! We had no fish in 4 days to show for it. Why??? 

Well the 1st obvious reason, its really early in the run and not a lot of fish around. But digging deeper into the scenario the 2nd thing i looked at was the water temp and it registered 42.0 degrees when we got there. brrrrrr. and when we left it was showing 44.5 degrees and rising because of the warm weather. Still cold but headed in the right direction. Optimal temp 48 to 58 degrees. The 3rd thing I looked at was bait in the river. When we arrived the river was still full of Smelt from the Smelt run. Well this doesn't help our chances when there bellies are already full. But when we left we noticed less Smelt balls on the fish finder and the birds had departed. This also a great sign for the arrival of Springers. The 4th and last thing i really looked at was the Tides. The whole time we were in Cathlamet we were fishing an in coming tide most of the time. This really makes it difficult because it makes the fish suspend and scatter out. So when there aren't many fish in the river and the ones that are have full bellies and are all scattered out in really cold water.I think its safe to say the odds were against us and i just couldn't pull off hero status on this one.

This brings me to weekend number 2 this past weekend March 20th and 21st. I found myself back in Cathlamet after reviewing my notes from the week before. The Smelt were gone. The tides were rolling out all day. and as far as i knew from the week earlier the water temps were on the rise. So we saddled up our rods with Fish Flash's once again. Brined our herring in the Super Herring brine and off we went. Thinking of all my notes when i was trolling that 1st pass on Saturday, Smelt were obviously gone. Tide was high and starting to go out, perfect! Temp was registering 44.9 degrees still a smidge cold but with everything else lining up we should be able to find a willing participant. 9 hours of trolling later on Saturday yet another day without a bite and back to the drawing board. What have i missed??? Hmmmmm..... Ok so lets look at the water again, well its cold got that. Its more clear than normal for this time of year lets think on that. Also iv noticed the dams aren't pushing out as much water as normal so when the tide pulls out the current isn't as hard as it usually is. I have been targeting 15 to 24 foot of water because in past years this is where i have smashed them. But with these different water condition being clear and slower lets try out in deeper water 30 to 40 foot stuff that is a little out of my norm for this but well lets face it cant be any worse! Last ditch effort!

Sunday March 21st I headed straight for 30 feet of water in the lower end of Cliftons channel. We had our baits cut and trailing 42 to 48 inches behind green Fish Flash's. I put on heavier leads 8oz and 6oz and told my guys to hug the bottom tight! 1st pass front left rod oh that was a bite wait he is still there wait wait wait  grab it???? Dang missed!! next rod back instantly wait he is on that one oh he is gone. next rod my rod in the back same side oh he is on that one now. Wait Wait wifff yeah i wiffed! ok regroup 2nd pass ohhh thats a bite oh he is gone short biter. passes 3 and 4 nothing. Lets head outside Tenasillahe island in the main channel. 1st pass 35foot of water oh thats a bite he is there fish on!!!. Nice 1st Springer in the net! He was Wild back to the deap he goes. We put the rods right back out and bang theres another yesss 2nd Springer in the net and its a keeper finally!

Well what a week it has been. I went through every scenario I could think of and finally we came out winners going 2 for 4 on Sunday! For our gear we were running Various 8inch green, red, and chartreuse Fish Flash's. We trailed cut plug herring behind these flashers with a 42 to 48 inch leader. we had 16 inch droppers on our lead balls to hug the bottom tight. We brined our herring in Northwest bait and scent Super Herring Brine in both Natural color and Blue. We were using the Graybills Salmon, Herring and Tuna Belly scents on our baits. All I can say is it was a lot of fun getting this season started! Also some advise, take notes, make a game plan and stick with it until you find em!

Good Luck out there!